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WOOD TV8 coverage of Environmental Justice report fails to acknowledge the systemic racism that contributes to environmental hazards in specific neighborhoods in Grand Rapids

August 7, 2019

In May, researchers at the University of Michigan published a report entitled, Assessing the State of Environmental Justice in Michigan. The report is 158 pages and is heaving with data and sourcing, but limited in analysis.

Last week, WOOD TV8 did a story based on the findings of the environmental justice report. The channel 8 story did not provide any real context around environmental justice or its principles, even though they did cite the study at the beginning of their story, along with using the phrase that the report, “identifies hot spots of environmental injustice across the state.”

The report looks at numerous factors that determine which communities across the state scored poorly on environmental justice issues. The factors the study looked at were income levels, racial makeup, education levels and language barriers. The report then look at areas that would negatively impact the environments that poor communities of color lived in, such as:

  • Air quality
  • Exposure to toxics
  • Respiratory issues
  • Ozone
  • Lead paint exposure
  • Proximity to high levels of traffic
  • Proximity to hazardous waste sites or incinerators
  • Wastewater discharge indicators
  • Lack of green space

In the conclusion of the report, it states:

The state of Michigan has a long history of manufacturing and industrial activity that has contributed to both the economic development of the state as well as to a culture of strong grassroots movements advocating for environmental quality along with state residents’ health and wellbeing. Additionally, there is along history of correlation between environmental harms and low-income, minority, and indigenous communities. The state of environmental justice in Michigan today can be traced back to these historical factors that shaped the culture and identity of different factions of society in Michigan. Through this research, the team provided evidence that environmental injustice is prevalent in Michigan. However, this study also provides evidence that significant steps can be taken to address environmental inequities.

Here is a map of Grand Rapids, included in the report, which provides data-based assessment of neighborhoods that scored high in terms of the risks. Note that these neighborhoods are predominantly black and latinx.

The WOOD TV8 story goes to the Roosevelt Park neighborhood attempting to talk with residents. People did not want to talk to the channel 8 reporter, so they interviewed someone from the neighborhood association and talked to the Executive Director of WMEAC, both of which were white. Utilizing white voices simply perpetuated the problem of how we view environmental justice, which is a movement that was begun by communities of color.

The channel 8 story did acknowledge that the neighborhood is right next to US 131 and there is a waste management facility nearby. However, there is no historical context as to when and how this neighborhood became a primarily latinx neighborhood.

At the end of the story, the WMEAC spokesperson said one way to combat the problem is to build a green wall, with trees and bushes. Calling it a green wall is an unfortunate description of what mostly an immigrant neighborhood could do to start reducing the pollutants in the neighborhood. More importantly, the WMEAC spokesperson did not discuss the issue of poverty in that area nor the structural racism that those residents face on a daily basis, both of which are critical to any analysis of environmental justice.

Grand Rapids and its superstar status: Praising economic growth while ignoring poverty and the wealth gap

August 7, 2019

Apparently Grand Rapids is continuing to win praise for it’s economic growth. Last week, WGVU radio did a story about how Reuters and Business Facilities Magazine have both identified Grand Rapids as one of “the best midsized cities for economic growth.”

The Reuters article doesn’t discuss Grand Rapids, they just include Grand Rapids in a map reflecting showing cities where there has been new job growth. 

The Business Facilities Magazine does provide more details about Grand Rapids, in an article published on July 24.  The article talks a bit about all the new manufacturing jobs in Grand Rapids and identifies a few companies where there is job growth:

Recent manufacturing projects in the Grand Rapids region include a $10 million capital investment by Bissell Inc. that will create 100 new jobs, a $140 million capital investment by Dicastal North America that will create 300 new jobs and a $29 million capital investment from Plasan Carbon Composites expected to generate more than 600 new jobs.

It is interesting that Bissell is mentioned with new job creation, although the article fails to mention that Bissell Inc. outsourced some 300 jobs after NAFTA was implemented in 1994. The article also fails to mention that Plasan Carbon Composites is an Israeli weapons manufacturing company, thus celebrating 600 new jobs for an Israeli military contractor is hardly cause for celebration or “superstar” status. The Business Facilities Magazine article also doesn’t mention that lots of public subsidies have gone to Plasan from the State of Michigan. 

Lastly, it is worth noting that the only local source cited in the WGVU radio piece was Birgit Klohs, President of The Right Place Inc, which is an entity that recruits businesses to come to West Michigan and it’s Board of Directors is made up of members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure.

What is missing from the WGVU Radio Story?

There may very well be new jobs created in Grand Rapids, but none of the news sources cited talked about what kind of jobs have been created or are yet to come in Grand Rapids. Are these full-time jobs that will pay a living wage or are they jobs that one could not afford to pay the rental fees in this city? Speaking of rental costs, this too is omitted from the story, along with the amount of gentrification taking place, which has also displaced whole areas across the city.

These stories about Grand Rapids, which are quickly celebrated by city officials, always leave out critical and crucial information about this city.

  • Based on a 2016 report, Grand Rapids had the largest Wealth Gap in Michigan. 
  • One out of every 4.5 residents in Grand Rapids Lives in Poverty, which is about 22.5% of the city’s population. The poverty level increases when we talk about the black community, which has 32.1% living in poverty and 36.5% for the latinx community. 
  • According to a new report from the University of Michigan, some of the worst areas in Michigan, when looking through an environmental justice lens, are in Grand Rapids, specifically in latinx and black neighborhoods. 

Grand Rapids will no doubt continue to receive high praise from the business press when talking about economic growth. However, it is always important to ask the question, cui bono, who benefits from this economic growth and who continues to suffer within this neoliberal capitalist framework.

Remembering Hiroshima & Resisting Nuclear Annihilation: A Personal Story

August 6, 2019

Today is an important day for all of us to reflect on the arrogant display of US imperialism in 1945. On August 6th, the US military dropped a nuclear bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, making the US the first and only country to use a nuclear weapon against a civilian population.

The first time I ever really thought about this atrocity was in 1982. I went with my brother to hear a Catholic priest speak about his experience as a chaplain during WWII. Fr. Charles McCarthy was the chaplain and was on the plane with the US soldiers who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Father McCarthy told us he was there to “bless” the mission.

A few weeks later, Fr. McCarthy said he went to Hiroshima, or what was left of it, because he wanted to see for himself what he had happened. Witness the devastation and human suffering, the priest knew that in order to live with himself that he would have to devote the rest of his life to radical non-violence and resist militarism, especially nuclear war.

I remember being blown away by what this priest had to say, not because he was a priest, but because of how witnessing the affects of US militarism, that he then made the radical transformation to resistance. I had never encounter a religious person who actually gave a shit about humanity.

The following year I entered the seminary and thought that it was the best expression of living out my faith. After a few months of being in a catholic seminary I was disappoint and disillusioned. 

I left the seminary and became part of a housing collective later named, the Koinonia House in Grand Rapids. However, before we purchased that house, I was involved in organizing against nuclear weapons in Grand Rapids, specifically at the old Lear Siegler  plant on Eastern near 36th street. Lear Siegler made guidance systems for nuclear weapons and we were doing regular protests at the factory and handing out literature to workers.

At the same time, my brother was involved in a campaign at Williams International, another company in southeast Michigan that was making parts for nuclear weapons, particularly the Cruise Missile. He was arrested while protesting at the factory in 1983, which led to an ongoing campaign to resist weapons manufacturing at that facility.

The following December, just days before moved into the Koinonia House, I was arrested at Williams International and ended up spending 48 days in jail. The consequences of getting arrested at Williams International were usually handled in the District Court, but an ambitious prosecutor from Wayne County, L. Brooks Patterson, had worked with the weapons manufacturer to post an injunction against future protests at the facility, This gave the company the opportunity to prosecute people protesting at Williams International in Circuit Court. The injunction that the company had posted included at the top of the page a list of defendant, with my brother’s name appearing as part of the injunction. When the judge in our case saw the injunction, he said to me, “are you any relation to Jim Smith.” I said, “he’s my brother.” The judge replied, “so this is a family thing getting arrested.”

What the judge then did was to threaten us with jail if we didn’t sign a document saying that we would never go back and protest at Williams International again. All of us who were arrested that day, refused to sign such a statement, because it would bind our conscience.

We were initially taken to the Wayne County Jail, but eventually they moved us to the Shiawassee  County Jail, just west of Flint. I spent the next month there, until Amnesty International decided to identify us as political prisoners, since we were in jail for reasons of conscience and not because of something we did.

I eventually got out and joined the newly formed community of resistance at Koinonia House, a house that practiced radical hospitality, nonviolence and simple living.

For years we would be part of the annual Hiroshima/Nagasaki commemoration, organized by the Institute for Global Education. The picture here above, is from Barb Lester, who was part of the Nuclear Freeze Campaign in the 1980s in Grand Rapids, at an event on Calder Plaza on August 6th.

I remember one action we did in 1985 on August 6th. There used to be a US Army Recruiting Center at the east end of the Monroe Mall in downtown Grand Rapids. We obtained ground rubber, something that was used for outdoor dancing so that people wouldn’t slip on the surface. Some of us laid down on the ground and then others would pour the ground up rubber around us, leaving the outline of a body. This is what people saw in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, since it was all that was left of the humans that were incinerated at ground zero.

The following year, there was a campaign to close the Strategic Air Command US Military base near Oscoda, Michigan. This base had nuclear weapons on it and would always have B 52 airplanes flying with nuclear weapons so that if the US was attacked, the US would still have nuclear weapons that were not destroyed. This, of course, was sheer madness, so our house became part of the resistance to shut down the base.

On August 6th, 1987, several of us from West Michigan were part of an action at Wurtsmith Air Force Base, an action that involved street theater and several arrests, which you can see in the picture here.

A few years later, we were part of another action at Wurtsmith, this time using the symbolism I had learned in Guatemala from the Mothers of the Disappeared. Again, several of us were arrested. We were book and then received court dates for sentencing. The judge presiding over these cases was in the National Guard and he consistently sentenced people to 3 months minimum for getting arrested at Wurtsmith. I decided that I would not go to my court date and wrote the judge a letter telling him why I wouldn’t be there.

Weeks later I received a second letter with a new court date. I wrote back and said that I was not coming, so they issued a bench warrant for my arrest. A few days later, federal marshals showed up at my house to arrest me, but I slipped out the back door and had a housemate tell them I wasn’t home.

I then spent the next several months at other people’s homes and generally just trying to lay low. Wendy Jo Carlton, who use to do a show on GRTV, did an interview with me, which is posted here below.

The US was getting ready to go to war with Iraq, so there were protests being organized in Grand Rapids in the fall of 1990. I started coming to those and one day federal marshals spotted me and grabbed me in front of the federal building. I spent the night in a holding cell on the 9th floor of the federal building in Grand Rapids and then went before a judge in the same building.

When I went before the judge I argued that international law compelled me to resist nuclear weapons, since such weapons killed indiscriminately. The judge actually agreed with me, but then said that he could not just let me go, so I ended up getting “community service.” The irony was, everyone else got at least 3 months for cooperating with the courts, while I got community service for going underground.

Two years later Wurtsmith Air Force Base was decommissioned and all the nuclear weapons were removed from the area.

Grand Rapids has a fairly rich history of nuclear resistance, with lots of committed people doing important work, which you can read about on the Grand Rapids People’s History Project.

I know that with the current political climate it can seem overwhelming and hopeless. However, it is important to remember that there have always been resistance movements around the world, made up of people who refused to give in and refuse to allow oppression and despair take over. We have power and we can take direct action to make the change we want. As the great liberation fighter Assata Shakur once said, Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”

Money, issues and the Grand Rapids 2nd Ward Commission race

August 5, 2019

Tomorrow, people in the 2nd Ward of Grand Rapids will have a chance to vote for one of the three candidates running for a City Commission seat.

The City Commission seat is a 4 year term and it is for a seat that Ruth Kelly is vacating.

The three people running are Michael Farage, Wendy Falb and Milinda Ysasi. The only one of the three that has previously held an elected office is Wendy Falb, who served on the Board of the Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Michael Farage, who has run for office on numerous occasions, only has a Facebook page for his candidacy. Farage, who is an anti-tax person, with conservative views on the function of local government, has been a vocal supporter of the Grand Rapids police department in recent months, despite the substantial criticism coming from the Black and Latinx communities over police violence. Farage boasts on his Facebook page over the endorsement from Nigel Farage, the UK leader of the Brexit Party. Nigel Farage has been a very vocal supporter of Donald Trumps presidency. 

There is little information on what Michael Farage’s position are on critical issues for Grand Rapids, but you can look at his Facebook page to see what some of his views are.

Wendy Falb has both a Facebook page and her own website, which lists the traditional endorsements, ways to donate and volunteer. There is a tab with the heading issues, but the three items she identifies are vague and do not speak to specifics in terms of what a City Commissioner will vote on.

Milinda Ysasi also has a Facebook page and a separate website for her candidacy. Ysasi’s website has a “vision” section, which identifies a few issues relevant to the City Commission, but the commentary is brief and somewhat vague.

Follow the Money

It is always instructive to see who contributes to candidates and this race one can make some determinations about where allegiances are.

Michael Farage raised $6,600 and has spent most of it, according to the Kent County Clerk’s Office Farage did not have many contributors, but most of them contributed a substantial amount.

  • Michael Farage $1,000
  • Emilie Farage $1,000
  • George Gordon $1,050
  • Barbara Gordon $1,050
  • Marge Potter $1,000
  • Johnny Brann $500
  • Joe Carpenter $500

Wendy Falb has raised $37,390 and spent $26,739, according to the Kent County Clerk’s Office. Falb has received contributions from several political entities, such as:

  • Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Union PAC $5,000
  • Grand Rapids Fire Fighter’s Union PAC $3,000
  • Realtor’s PAC of Michigan $1,000
  • Rental Property Owner’s Association PAC $500

Some of the larger individual contributors for Falb are:

  • Steve Peska $1,500
  • Rebecca Smith Hoffman $1,500
  • David Edwards $1,200
  • Elizabeth Welch $1,000
  • Kate Pew Walters $1,000
  • Peter Secchia $1,000
  • John Brann Jr. $1,000
  • Bob Goodrich $700
  • Sam Cummings $500
  • Scott Bowen $500
  • Mary Ann Keeler $500

As one can see from the list of contributors to Falb, she has received financial support from some members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure and political action committees that have a very clear agenda.

Milinda Ysasi has raised a total of $30,180 and spent $18,155, according to the Kent County Clerk’s office. Ysasi has received funding from three political groups:

  • Equity PAC $1,500
  • Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce $1,000
  • Blue Cross/Blue Shield $500

Some of the larger individual contributions for Ysasi are from:

  • William Lewis $1,000
  • Jessie Bernal $600
  • Raul Ysasi $590
  • Kenyatta Brame $500
  • Raquel Salas $500
  • Paul Doyle $500

Based on the financial contributions it would appear that Milinda Ysasi has received more of her money from contributors who gave smaller amounts, although it is puzzling that the GR Chamber of Commerce would endorse her. The GR Chamber of Commerce only endorses people who are friendly towards the capitalist class and candidates that do not threaten business as usual, so their endorsement of Ysasi seems to conflict with the more grassroots aspect of her campaign supporters.

Wendy Falb is relying on more money from those who are part of political class and from those who have tremendous influence based on their status, such as Secchia and Kate Pew Walters. Farage has raised the least amount and also from a very small number of contributors.

White gunmen, white supremacists and white supremacy

August 5, 2019

The most recent shooting that took place in El Paso, Texas, is just another example of a white male engaged in an awful act of gun violence, violence that targeted innocent victims.

A great deal of coverage in the past 24 hours is calling this most recent act of gun violence by a white male, domestic terrorism. This is an appropriate way of naming what happened.

In addition, there are other sources that are calling the gunman a white supremacist, since he has posted statements about what he called the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Calling the white gunman in Texas a white supremacist is also appropriate terminology for who Patrick Crusius is.

Identifying Crusius as a white supremacist is accurate, but it is also problematic in the current political climate for two important reasons. First, there has been a great deal more discussion and public discourse on white supremacist groups, a reality that began during the Obama administration and has only increased under the Trump administration. The public discourse is good, but many of these groups have been around for decades, while others like the KKK have been around for more than a century.

One of the reasons white supremacist groups have felt emboldened in recent decades has a lot to do with the push back against the gains of black, indigenous, latinx and other communities of color since the 1960s. This push back has primarily been because of the structural racism within the US and is not a direct result of what are identified as white supremacist groups. The political push back by the systems of power in the US – from Reagan’s push for de-industrialization and the War on Drugs, to the Clinton administration’s expansion of the prison industrial complex and the reduction of the welfare system, to Bush’s War on Terror to increasing the surveillance state, to Obama’s deportation policies and the increase police killings of black people, to Trump’s escalation of all of the previous policies – has benefited what are identified as white supremacist groups, since the rightward policies have provided more political space for the more visibly white supremacist organizations.

The second reason why calling the El Paso shooter a white supremacist is because it has the potential of hiding or even dismissing the white supremacist nature of the US systems of power. In other words, we can easily call the El Paso shooter a white supremacist, but we have a hard time calling police departments as an instrument of white supremacy.

Part of the reason why many of us have a hard time calling law enforcement agencies as white supremacist is because of how we have talked about race in the US. We primarily focus on individual acts of discrimination as opposed to thinking about structural racism. Many people also struggle with naming US systems of power as white supremacist, because white people don’t want to acknowledge that white people have been in control in the US since its founding. Whiteness and white power are the dominant cultural narrative, which is why we need to name US systems of power as systems of White Supremacy.

Longtime anti-racist educator, Elizabeth Martinez, provides a very important definition of what White Supremacy is. She says: 

White Supremacy is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.

When we are able to name White Supremacy as more than just klan members, then we can come to terms with why there are so many structural injustices. For example, the amount of harm that is done to communities of color by the prison industrial complex (PIC) – cops, judges, prosecutors, prison guards, county jails, state prisons, federal prisons, private prisons, detention centers and the hundreds of businesses that make products or provide services for the PIC – overwhelmingly surpasses the harm done by lone white gunmen or white nationalist groups like the Proud Boys.

We must come to see that the wealth gap between white and black people is the result of White Supremacy.

We must come to see that the federal government’s bailout of Wall Street was necessary to support the system of White Supremacy.

We must come to see that the gentrification of our cities is a result of White Supremacist policies.

We must come to see that the US military is essentially a mechanism of White Supremacy.

We must come to see that our food system is rooted in White Supremacy.

We must come to see that the ecological devastation that we wage on the planet is a result of White Supremacy.

We must come to see that our media system – both news & entertainment – produces and benefits White Supremacy.

We must come to see that our electoral system is fundamentally a system of White Supremacy.

If we are not seeing how White Supremacy is part of the very fabric of our society, then we are not paying attention.

My response to the claim that “it was not the time or place” for Movimiento Cosecha to protest at the debate in Detroit

August 2, 2019

Yesterday, we reported on the various actions taken by Movimiento Cosecha Michigan, in Detroit during the Democratic Presidential candidate debates. 

There has been tremendous support for the actions that Movimiento Cosecha has taken in recent weeks, especially those actions that have confronted Joe Biden for his role in the deportation of 3 million immigrants, while acting as the VP in the Obama administration.

However, some people liberals and Democrats have not been supportive of the actions taken by Movimiento Cosecha. One commenter that was critical of the protests that disrupted the debates on Wednesday night, said:

Not the time or place. The behavior at tonight’s debate was disgraceful and unprecedented. 

This statement is instructive on many levels, so lets spend some time unpacking it.

First, the action during the debate was NOT unprecedented. Dissidents have been interrupting political candidates for decades, which makes this observation false.

Second, why is what was done disgraceful? The two women who took action to disrupt Joe Biden were both immigrants who were speaking for the immigrant community. There is nothing disgraceful about speaking for your own community, even if it means disrupting a candidate debate. Movimiento Cosecha Michigan released a statement about why they disrupted the debate on Wednesday night. Here is part of what that statement said: 

“Nearly every candidate has spoken out against the abuses immigrants are facing under the Trump Administration, but simply undoing the policies enacted by Trump is not enough. For decades, many in the Democratic Party have been complicit in attacks on the immigrant community. While Republicans fanned the flames of white supremacy with their anti-immigrant rhetoric, President Barack Obama campaigned on the promise of immigration reform but ended up deporting almost 3 million people — a record in our country’s history,” said Brenda Valladares, a spokesperson for the Cosecha Movement.

Such a statement is important, because we can’t simply blame the Trump administration for the immigration crisis. Both the Democrats and the Republicans have supported policies for decades that has led to where the US is now in regards to its immigration policy.

It is also important to acknowledge that the militarization of the US/Mexican border and the further criminalization of immigrants gained a tremendous amount of traction during the Clinton administration.

Here is an excerpt from President Clinton’s 1995 State of the Union speech

“All Americans, not only in the States most heavily affected but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public service they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That’s why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens. In the budget I will present to you, we will try to do more to speed the deportation of illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes, to better identify illegal aliens in the workplace as recommended by the commission headed by former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. We are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it.”

The same anti-immigrant rhetoric being used by the Trump administration has its roots in the Clinton administration. More importantly, in 1996, the Clinton administration passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. This law placed restrictions of up to ten years if undocumented immigrants were caught in the country without documents. This meant that if an undocumented immigrant was deported, they could not apply for any legal means to enter the country for at least ten years. In many ways, this immigration policy passed under the Clinton administration, fundamentally laid the groundwork for what the Trump administration is now doing.

This is not the time or place

Third, it is instructive that a member of the Democratic Party would make the statement, “this is not the time or place,” when referring to the Cosecha organized protest during the debate on Wednesday in Detroit. It is instructive for several reasons. The person making the statement has citizenship status and is not at risk of deportation, thus revealing their own privilege.

Another reason why it is an instructive statement is because it reflects the idea that people shouldn’t protest candidates, because it is through voting that we make progress in this country. I would imagine, however, that if people were interrupting President Trump while he was talking about immigration policy or any other Republican for that matter, the person who said “this is not the time or place” would probably not object to the interruption. Therefore, we can amend the previous statement to say that voting for Democrats is how we make progress in this country. This is essentially what it comes down to, in terms of the objection to Cosecha disrupting Joe Biden. What “this is not the time or place” really means is that protesting Democrats only benefits the Republicans and the chance that Trump will get re-elected. Such sentiment is not only false it is deeply displaced.

The appropriate question should be, why aren’t you as equally pissed off about candidates who do not hold their own party accountable for anti-immigration policies? Members of Movimiento Cosecha Michigan and immigrants in general are asking people who are not at risk of deportation, What are you doing to make sure that we don’t get arrested, detained and deported because of the unjust immigration policies in this country?

If you were upset or felt it was inappropriate for people to disrupt the Democratic Presidential candidate debate, I ask you – what have you done to fight, resist and organize to oppose the decades-long oppressive immigration policies of this country? When are you going to take direct action to expose, stop or prevent the arrest, detention and deportation of more immigrants? What are you willing to risk to be in solidarity with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who leave in constant fear of cops and ICE agents?

The action taken by members of Movimiento Cosecha to disrupt the debate on Wednesday was the perfect time and place to expose the complicity of the Democrats and to draw attention to the demands of the undocumented immigrant community, which is fighting for their very lives.

Cosecha Michigan Shut Down the US/Canada Tunnel, disrupted the debates and elevated the voices of immigrants in Detroit today!

August 1, 2019

(Editor’s note: I participated in the Cosecha Michigan actions today, in the capacity of doing crowd safety.)

With the national news media present for the 2nd night of debates between Democratic Presidential hopefuls, Movimiento Cosecha Michigan made their voices heard and put immigrant justice at the center of attention.

Several hundred people gathered at Hart Plaza around 4pm in downtown Detroit to make it known that despite the so-called debates taking place, the immigrant community had their own vision and their own demands that were not up for debate. The demands that Movimiento Cosecha has put forward for all presidential candidates are as follows:

  1. An End to All Detention & Deportations on Day 1.
  2. Immediate Legalization for all Undocumented Immigrants.
  3. Family Reunification For All – Dignity Not Deportation.

About 4:30pm, organizers with Movimiento Cosecha Michigan invited members of the Anishinaabe community to welcome people to the land that they were standing on, land that is still indigenous and land, land that does not recognize the manufactured border between the US and Canada. This acknowledgement helped to frame the theme and the actions of the day, actions that centered the lives and lived experiences of the immigrant community.

Several Cosecha organizers then spoke to the crowd that had gathered, both in English and in Spanish. Nelly Fuentes-Donnachello, a Cosecha organizer from Kalamazoo, then helped to reframe the message about immigrants and the Presidential debates. Nelly said that the candidates would be debating immigration policy and immigrant rights, but amongst the immigrant community there is no debate about their worth, about their opposition to detention & deportation, and their is no debate about their dignity as human beings. She also said that the candidates can debate these issues, but they do not speak for her, nor the 11 million undocumented immigrants current in the US.

Around 5pm, the crowd was invited to march down to the entrance to the tunnel that connects the US and Canada, where people would be doing civil disobedience in order to dramatize the harm that immigrant families experience on a daily basis.

Twenty one allies sat in the road, thus blocking traffic to the tunnel, traffic that was going to Canada and traffic that was coming into the US.

Members of the Detroit Police Department descended on the protestors quickly, although arrests were not made immediately. Eventually, the US Customs and Border Patrol also arrived on the scene to assist with the protest that also stopped traffic on Jefferson Avenue. You can see in the pictures below how many law enforcement officers were on the scene.

Eventually, those sitting in the road were arrested. During the arrests, there was celebratory applause from the crowd for each person who had been arrested. It was important for allies to be arrested, since it not only sends a strong message to the immigrant community about solidarity, but also because allies will not face the same treatment as immigrants who are picked up by ICE.

One ally who was arrested, Kaitlin Popielarz, wrote a brief statement about why she took action, saying:

“Along with 20 other allies/advocates/co-conspirators, I was arrested today while blocking a port of entry at the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. I put my body on the line in the struggle for immigration justice. Education justice is immigration justice. My civil disobedience today was because of my students, colleagues, comrades, and friends who have taught and shown me what it means to be in the movement for more Beloved shared futures.”

After the arrests, the crowd marched back to Hart Plaza, to prepare for the second part of the action, which was to march to where the debates were taking place. Over 100 people marched down Woodward Avenue, chanting and drawing a great deal attention from people who were sitting outside at various restaurants or just out enjoying the weather. The march had great energy and ended up close to where the debate between Democratic Presidential hopefuls was taking place.

However, there were two members of Movimiento Cosecha who were able to get inside the theater, where the debates were taking place. When Joe Biden was speaking, they both stood up and interrupted Biden, calling attention to the 3 million undocumented immigrants that were deported during the Obama/Biden administration. Immigrants understand this legacy and that the government criminalization of immigrants did not just begin with the Trump administration.

Several Michigan news agencies reported on the interruption by Cosecha members during the debate, but the action was also reported by national news outlets, like CNN.

At the end of the day, Movimiento Cosecha was able to organize a march, block the tunnel between Detroit and Windsor, interrupt the Presidential debates and get their message out to millions of people across the country. Aqui Estamos y no, nos Vamos!